“Every day we do things, we are things that have to do with peace. If we are aware of our life, our way of looking at things, we will know how to make peace right in the moment, we are alive.” Thich Nhat Hanh
A few thousand people have gathered sitting silently, with our eyes closed, sitting on a grassy hill top while listening to a petite nun, modestly dressed in a chestnut brown robe with matching headscarf, leading us in a guided meditation. This morning starts with the clear chime of a bell. This is no ordinary walk — rather it is a silent, unhurried, meditative walk for peace.
Finishing the guided mediation the entire group gathers quietly and waits to begin the actual walk. We are led by a small framed Vietnamese monk, whose smooth skin and ease of movement belie his age of eighty years old. He is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, a prolific writer and a peace activist and we are in MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, to participate in this event aptly entitled, Peace is Every Step.
So we begin with small, stilted steps. I start to wonder if I am going to have the patience to move at a pace that is set by someone other than myself. I tend to walk fast, with long strides, trying to arrive quickly wherever I am headed. At first, to me, the pace seems almost lethargic, and definitely slothlike. But I try to remain patient, and about twenty, or so, minutes in, as we finally start to leave the gathering point and spread out, I begin to breathe more easily. We slowly wind our way around the perimeter of the park, thousands of us, and I begin to accept this somewhat awkward pace, realizing arriving at the finish in record time should not be my goal. I begin to feel something seep into me, a sense of ease.
Tha^y, meaning teacher, which Thich Nhat Hanh is affectionately referred to, asked us to say the following as we walked, I have arrived, I am home. As I repeat these words, while placing each foot carefully on the ground, I start to feel, really feel, the earth under my feet, each of my breathes is growing deeper with each deliberate footstep. This calm and acceptance makes me realize this is both an in restraint and of awareness, meant to bring each of us out of our thoughts into the present moment. It dawns on me that it really does not matter how long it takes to get from start to finish. I am becoming more aware of the journey in between. Instead of quickly moving, noticing very little around me, I am starting to instead observe — the bustling neighborhood and the many people striding its sidewalks, the colorful buildings of this predominantly Latino neighborhood with music blaring from storefronts and upstairs windows, the uplifting signs along the route attached to the trees, and the serpentine chain of silent walkers — actually being present for moments at a time in the here and now. Exercise
So what does walking slowly and silently have to do with peace and serviceâ€¦? Everything. During the walk I passed a brightly colored, yellow sign written in beautiful, scrolling, calligraphy that stated â€œBreathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smileâ€. I felt the tremendous amount of powerful energy generated by this entire group of walkers. Energy that was immeasurable, but discernable none the less. This short journey made me ponder that one can only give what one already possesses. In order to contribute to a peaceful world, to be compassionate and genuinely giving, peace and compassion has to reside in our own hearts first — in the words of Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
As I continued along the route I spotted another sign stating â€œThere is beauty above me and below me. There is beauty behind me and in front of meâ€ â€“ peace, beauty, compassion are not things out of reach, outside myself, they are all around me and within each of us, in the people in front and behind us, in the tall trees, and the towering seamless sky and the gentle earth supporting each footfall — we just have to slow down and breathe, find our peaceful space within — and be here, now.
Watch a beautiful video of the Peace Is Every Step Walk in Los Angeles